FAMILY TIES A WORLD AWAY ROMANIAN COUPLE STRUGGLE TO FIND A WAY TO BRING DAUGHTERS TO THE U.S.

The Plain Dealer
Cleveland, OH
Dec 27, 1998

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Authors: JENNIFER GONZALEZ PLAIN DEALER REPORTER
Pagination: 1B

Abstract:

For now, 43-year-old Doina scrapes together money to send to Adina, 19, and Geanina, 20, who live without heat, water or family in Fagaras, an industrial Romanian town of 45,000 people.

The Ungurs applied for a visitors visa for their daughters in March, but the request was denied. A State Department spokeswoman said the family did not prove that the girls had sufficient personal, economic or cultural ties to guarantee their return to Romania.

While performing in Canada, he obtained a transit visa for the United States, where he quickly applied for political asylum. For 20 years, while Communists still ruled Romania, he and other family members had been persecuted for their membership in an anti-Communist group, Doina said. Security police had beaten and jailed him on several occasions.

(Copyright (c) The Plain Dealer 1998)

Full Text:

A candle burns brightly on the kitchen table at Doina Ungur's home. She says she will continue her candlelight vigil until she sees her daughters again.

How will she get them here from Romania? How will she persuade U.S. immigration officials to allow it?

She does not know. But she trusts that she will.

For now, 43-year-old Doina scrapes together money to send to Adina, 19, and Geanina, 20, who live without heat, water or family in Fagaras, an industrial Romanian town of 45,000 people.

She shuttles between two jobs and cares for her husband, Cornel, who suffered a brain injury in a car accident near Akron in 1995.

"It would help so much for him to see them," Doina said recently, wiping away tears. "It has been almost five years. It has been too long."

The Ungurs are victims, in part, of the United States' tightened immigration rules. A 1996 law tried to reduce illegal immigration, but critics say the law has made it harder for families to reunite.

The Ungurs applied for a visitors visa for their daughters in March, but the request was denied. A State Department spokeswoman said the family did not prove that the girls had sufficient personal, economic or cultural ties to guarantee their return to Romania.

The girls were heartbroken.

"Life is so hard for me and Adina," Geanina said during a recent telephone interview. "We have no job. We have little money. We miss them. We want to see our daddy."

Cornel, 46, an accomplished accordion player, speaks infrequently, simply nodding when asked questions. His music and his daughters move him to smile, but not much else does.

He last saw them at a going-away party, as he prepared to leave for a European and North American music tour in July 1994.

While performing in Canada, he obtained a transit visa for the United States, where he quickly applied for political asylum. For 20 years, while Communists still ruled Romania, he and other family members had been persecuted for their membership in an anti-Communist group, Doina said. Security police had beaten and jailed him on several occasions.

At his wife's urging, Cornel decided to stay in the United States. There were no jobs for him in Faragas, and it was risky for him to return to Romania, Doina said.

Doina said she has no regrets about her husband's decision to stay in the United States, not even after his accident.

But that accident has forever altered the family's structure.

Early on June 4, 1995, Cornel and two other Romanian musicians were returning to Cleveland from a wedding reception near Akron when a pickup truck crossed the median and struck their car head-on.

The other men died. Cornel suffered multiple injuries, including fractured legs and a fractured right hip. He spent almost a year in rehabilitation relearning to walk, speak and reason.

Cornel has little short-term memory; but he can remember further back to his life in Romania.

The Ungurs call Adina and Geanina every other Sunday. In between, they make do with a small black album of their daughters' pictures and a recent videotape showing them cleaning the house.

"I am missing you," Adina wrote on the back of one picture. "Take care of yourselves, dear parents."

"I miss them so much," Doina said. "It was so hard to leave the girls. I can still see their faces. They were crying as I left."

Doina learned of her husband's accident from a friend in Cleveland. The friend had called her at work. After four months and five visits to the U.S. embassy, she received permission from the U.S. government to come to him.

It would be her first trip ever outside Fagaras, on a 5,000-mile flight where she refused to eat or use the rest room because she feared having to pay for it.

The Ungurs now live in a small duplex on W. 64th St. in Cleveland. Cornel's accident has limited him to simple work he can do while sitting. Doina works as a welder during the day at Asset Wire and Manufacturing in Cleveland. In the evening, she cleans offices downtown.

She sends her daughters about $400 a month, which does not go far. A dozen eggs in Romania costs $12, Doina said. A pair of average shoes is about $100.

Doina's boss, Asset Wire co-owner Paula Bates, helped the couple fill out the visa application in March and even pledged to take financial responsibility for the daughters.

Bates, of Vermilion, has become the Ungurs' champion and wrote recently to U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Sen. Mike DeWine and even first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton asking for help.

"Paula is my boss and my friend," Doina said. "She is a very good lady."

Bates said she learned of the Ungurs' plight from another employee. When the girls' heat and water were turned off, she said, she could no longer watch the family suffer.

"The only source of heat that the girls have is from a cook stove in the kitchen," said Bates, a mother of seven. "They live alone. They are unemployed because there are no jobs for them in their village."

Cornel breaks into in tears every time the couple call their daughters. The Ungurs recently hired Cleveland attorney Richard T. Herman, an immigration specialist, to help with their case.

Herman said immigration officials still have not interviewed Cornel about his asylum application, which he said was more likely to be approved in 1994, before it fell in with a backlog of cases.

If Cornel were granted asylum, he would be allowed to bring his daughters to the United States, Herman said.

He said he plans to reapply for visitors visas for his children. He also plans to attach a personal financial bond with the application. If his children do not return to Romania, the U.S. government would keep the money, he said.

In the meantime, the Ungurs will continue to hope and pray that one day their family can be reunited.

"I work 14 hours a day. I have no choice," Doina said. "I work, because I know one day I will see my girls again."

PHOTOS BY: MARVIN FONG / PLAIN DEALER PHOTOGRAPHER PHOTO 1 Doina Ungur holds a picture of her daughters, Adina, 19, left, and Geanina, 20. The picture was taken about two years ago in Romania. PHOTO 2 Paula Bates, left, talks about trying to get Doina and Cornel Ungur's two daughters from Romania to the United States for a visit. Bates, of Vermilion, has become the Ungurs' champion and wrote recently to U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Sen. Mike DeWine and even first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton asking for help.

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